'Almost Immediately Red Flags Went Up': Parents of Disabled Boy Killed in Home Fire Charged with Murder
On March 1, Ernest Franklin and wife Heather lost their son and every possession in a home fire.
The Daily Mail reported that the fire engulfed their double-wide trailer and was caused by a wood stove, which was used to heat their home.
Inside the trailer, first responders found 16-year-old Jeffrey 'JR' Franklin's body. Multiple news sources categorize “JR” as deaf and autistic. Heather's Facebook profile picture featured a family photo:
When faced with the loss of their son and the prospect of starting over with nothing, the upstate New York community pulled together.
A March 19 Facebook post by Heather that has since been taken down, said the couple had been staying with friends but recently found a new home.
The post included a link to a registry that had a list of household goods. CNN reported her post said:
“Many people have asked us what kind of things we need. We have came up with a list of needs, and, or wants.”
The Franklins' neighbor, Dominick Gildersleeve, started a GoFundMe page that raised over $11,000 and told CNN that two people gave $1,000 each. He explained the significance of the donation:
“For working class people, that's not small money.”
As someone who has to “walk by the ruins” frequently he told CNN that “it wears on you, especially knowing their son died.”
Since the fire, he has helped keep up their property and care for their farm animals. However, recent events have left the five-year neighbor feeling “absolutely, horrifically betrayed.”
According to PEOPLE, on Wednesday, Ernest and Heather were charged with the second-degree murder of their son, arson, and tampering with physical evidence.
The charges against the war veteran and his pregnant wife shocked the community, but investigators reportedly suspected something all along. Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting Jr. told CNN:
“Early on, almost immediately at the scene that night, some red flags went up. We chose to kind of keep it close to the vest.”
Cutting claimed that the fire became a homicide investigation after Jeffrey's body was found. CNN reported that the couple adopted Jeffrey six or seven years ago and any evidence of past abuse is being investigated.
Since Jeffrey was “pretty much” in a wheelchair, the sheriff said that he was “totally reliant” on his parents. CNN noted that one of the parents was home at the time of the fire.
The community, which has financially supported the couple since the fire, is now experiencing a mix of “anger and frustration and disappointment.” He told PEOPLE:
“There are a lot of people who would have taken him. There are organizations that would have taken care of him. Why resort to that?”
From Cutting's perspective, the Franklins were cooperative until they were called in for an interview with investigators and the attention turned on them. Then, they asked for a lawyer and stopped talking.
Both Ernest and Heather pleaded not guilty to all charges and are currently being held without bail.